Artists honour women, pay tribute to Turkey, Syria earthquake victims in Vancouver exhibit

Artist Inanna Cusi says her painting of a woman's cracking body holding up the earth symbolizes women's strength and vulnerability. (Rafe Arnott/CBC - image credit)
Artist Inanna Cusi says her painting of a woman's cracking body holding up the earth symbolizes women's strength and vulnerability. (Rafe Arnott/CBC - image credit)

Artists in Metro Vancouver are honouring women and paying tribute to the victims of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in an exhibit for International Women's Day and the centennial anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

The exhibit, titled Women's Art On Women's Day, will be held at Simon Fraser University's Segal Building in Vancouver, featuring the works of 15 artists, all of them women.

Although preparations for the event began months ago, when the powerful earthquakes hit in February, the artists decided to change their projects, and work on paintings related to the quakes and the strength of women simultaneously.

"The quakes affected us deeply … I lost a very dear friend of mine," said Eser Ince, who moved to Canada from Turkey in 2011 and now lives in North Vancouver.

Rafe Arnott/CBC
Rafe Arnott/CBC

Nilufar Moayeri, an Iranian-born artist who grew up in Istanbul, is organizing the exhibition with the Turkish-Canadian Society. Proceeds from the artists' paintings will go towards supporting survivors of the quake.

"After that painful tragedy, we were all prepared to paint a woman to show how strong they are," Moayeri said.

'I tried to capture the strength of women'

Moayeri's painting shows a woman's face in light and darkness. The dark side shows damaged buildings and people trying to help others out of the rubble, while the light side, full of blues and yellows, represents hope, she says.

Inanna Cusi, an Austrian-Mexican painter and filmmaker, will be showcasing a piece titled Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. It features the body of a woman carrying the planet. The body and the ground are full of cracks.

"I tried to capture the strength of women and how we are holding together the world but also the doom … the earthquake destroying our world and the hardships that we're enduring at the same time," she said.

"So I guess it's up to interpretation how optimistic or pessimistic you see it."

Rafe Arnott/CBC
Rafe Arnott/CBC

Ince's painting shows a building full of cracks and diagonal lines, representing fault lines. A woman is seen at the bottom — an homage to the friend she lost in the earthquake.

Her friend was visiting her mother in a hospital in İskenderun when the earthquake struck.

"I was really deeply hurt and traumatized by what happened," Ince said.

WATCH | Aid still needed in Turkey, Syria:

Since the earthquakes shook southern Turkey and northern Syria one month ago, killing more than 45,000 people, hundreds of thousands of people are still in need of adequate shelter and sanitation, according to the United Nations. An appeal for $1 billion to assist survivors is only 10 per cent funded, hampering efforts to tackle the humanitarian crisis.

About two million survivors have been housed in temporary accommodation or evacuated from the earthquake-devastated region, according to Turkish government figures. Around 1.5 million people have been settled in tents while another 46,000 have been moved to container houses.

Showcasing 'the power of women'

Moayeri and Ince say it's essential to showcase "the power of women" through the paintings, especially as part of celebrations of the Turkish Republic's centenary and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1923, Turkey started efforts to modernize and secularize the country, which included passing equality legislation. Turkish women got the right to vote in 1934.

"It's a very important day," Ince said.

For Moayeri, it's doubly important to create art that empowers women because of the women's movement in Iran that began in the fall of 2021.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Protests were held around the world after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being detained by Iran's morality police, allegedly for not wearing her hijab properly.

"As a woman," she said, "I always try to tell with my paintings that women are powerful."